Rebecca is a 1938 Gothic novel by English author Dame Daphne du Maurier. It concerns an unnamed young woman who impetuously marries a wealthy widower, only to discover that he and his household are haunted by the memory of his late first wife, the title character. A best-seller which has never gone out of print, Rebecca sold 2.8 million copies between its publication in 1938 and 1965. It has been adapted numerous times for stage and screen, including a 1939 play by du Maurier herself, and the film, Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
PlotWhile working as the companion to a rich American woman on holiday in Monte Carlo, the unnamed narrator, a naïve young woman in her early 20s, becomes acquainted with a wealthy Englishman, George Fortescue Maximilian "Maxim" de Winter, a 42-year-old widower. After a fortnight of courtship, she agrees to marry him and, after the wedding and honeymoon, accompanies him to his mansion in Cornwall, the beautiful estate Manderley.
Mrs Danvers, the sinister housekeeper, was profoundly devoted to the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca, who died in a boating accident about a year before Maxim and the second Mrs de Winter met. She continually attempts to undermine the narrator psychologically, subtly suggesting to her that she will never attain the beauty, urbanity, and charm her predecessor possessed. Whenever the narrator attempts to make changes at Manderley, Mrs Danvers describes how Rebecca ran it when she was alive. Each time Mrs Danvers does this, she implies that the narrator lacks the experience and knowledge necessary for running an important estate. Cowed by Mrs Danvers' imposing manner, and the other members of West Country society's unwavering reverence for Rebecca, the narrator becomes isolated.
The narrator is soon convinced that Maxim regrets his impetuous decision to marry her and is still deeply in love with the seemingly perfect Rebecca. The climax occurs at Manderley's annual costume ball. Mrs Danvers manipulates the narrator into wearing a replica of the dress shown in a portrait of one of the former inhabitants of the house—hiding the fact that the same costume was worn by Rebecca to much acclaim shortly before her death. The narrator has a drummer announce her entrance using the name of the lady in the portrait: Caroline de Winter. When the narrator shows Maxim the dress, he angrily orders her to change.
Shortly after the ball, Mrs Danvers reveals her contempt for the narrator, believing she is trying to replace Rebecca, and reveals her deep, unhealthy obsession with the dead woman. Mrs Danvers tries to get the narrator to commit suicide by encouraging her to jump out of the window. However, she is thwarted at the last moment by the disturbance occasioned by a nearby shipwreck. A diver investigating the condition of the wrecked ship's hull also discovers the remains of Rebecca's sailing boat, with her decomposed body still on board.
This discovery causes Maxim to confess to the narrator that his marriage to Rebecca was a sham. Rebecca, Maxim reveals, was a cruel and selfish woman who manipulated everyone around her into believing her to be the perfect wife and a paragon of virtue. On the night of her death, she told Maxim that she was pregnant with another man's child, which she would raise under the pretense that it was Maxim's and he would be powerless to stop her. In a rage, Maxim had shot her through the heart, then disposed of her body by placing it in her boat and sinking it at sea. The narrator thinks little of Maxim's murder confession, but instead is relieved to hear that Maxim has always loved her and never Rebecca.
Rebecca's boat is raised and it is discovered to have been deliberately sunk. An inquest brings a verdict of suicide. However, Rebecca's first cousin and lover, Jack Favell, attempts to blackmail Maxim, claiming to have proof that she could not have intended suicide based on a note she sent to him the night she died. It is revealed that Rebecca had had an appointment with a doctor in London shortly before her death, presumably to confirm her pregnancy. When the doctor is found, he reveals that Rebecca had cancer and would have died within a few months. Furthermore, due to the malformation of her uterus, she could never have been pregnant. Maxim assumes that Rebecca, knowing that she was going to die, manipulated him into killing her quickly. Mrs Danvers had said after the inquiry that Rebecca feared nothing except dying a lingering death.
Maxim feels a great sense of foreboding, and insists on driving through the night to return to Manderley. However, before he comes in sight of the house, it is clear from a glow on the horizon and wind-borne ashes that it is ablaze.
The novel is remembered especially for the character Mrs. Danvers, the fictional estate Manderley, and its opening line:
- The Narrator/the Second Mrs de Winter: A timid, naïve, middle-class woman in her early twenties, who enjoys sketching. Neither the narrator's first nor maiden name is revealed. She is referred to as "my wife", Mrs de Winter, "my dear", and so on. The one time she is introduced with a name is during a fancy dress ball, in which she dresses as a de Winter ancestor and is introduced as "Caroline de Winter", although this is clearly not her own name. She signs her name as "Mrs M. de Winter", using Maxim's initial. Early in the novel she receives a letter and remarks that her name was correctly spelled, which is "an unusual thing," suggesting her name is uncommon, foreign or complex. While courting her, Maxim compliments her on her "lovely and unusual name". Despite her timidity, she gradually matures throughout the novel, refusing to be a victim of Rebecca's phantom-like influence any longer and becoming a strong, assertive woman in her own right.
- George Fortescue Maximilian "Maxim" de Winter: The reserved, unemotional owner of Manderley. He marries his new wife after a brief courtship, yet displays little affection toward her after the marriage. Emotionally scarred by his traumatic marriage to Rebecca, his distance toward his new wife causes her to fear he regrets his marriage to her and is still broken-hearted over Rebecca's death. Maxim killed Rebecca in a blind rage after she pushed him over the edge with her lie that she was carrying the child of one of her lovers and would force him to raise it as his own. He does eventually reveal to his new wife that he does love her, but not until several months of marriage have passed. His full name is tauntingly revealed, by Jack Favell, to be George Fortescue Maximilian de Winter.
- Mrs Danvers: The cold, creepy, overbearing housekeeper of Manderley. Danvers was Rebecca's family maid when she was a child and has lived with her for years. She is unhealthily obsessed with Rebecca and preserving Rebecca's memory. She resents the new Mrs de Winter, convinced she is trying to "take Rebecca's place". She tries to destroy the marriage, but her efforts fail and only serve to bring Maxim and his new wife closer together. After her scheme is ruined, Mrs Danvers apparently burns Manderley to the ground, preferring to destroy it than allow Maxim to share his home with another lover and wife. She is nicknamed Danny which is derived from her last name; her first name being unknown or unimportant, but in Sally Beauman's sequel Rebecca's Tale it was said to be Edith.
- Rebecca de Winter: The unseen, deceased titular character, who has been dead for less than a year. A famous beauty, and on the surface a devoted wife and perfect hostess, Rebecca was actually a compulsive liar and an openly promiscuous woman who tormented her husband Maxim with lurid tales of her nonstop affairs. Her lingering presence overwhelms Manderley, dominating the visitors, the staff and the new Mrs de Winter. Through dialogue, it is slowly revealed that Rebecca possessed all the signs of a psychopath: habitual lying, superficial charm, expert manipulation, no conscience and no remorse. She was also revealed to be somewhat sadistic — Danvers tells a story of Rebecca, during her teenage years, cruelly whipping a horse until it bled. In the 1940 film adaptation, her maiden name was said to be Henrich.
- Frank Crawley: The hard-working, dutiful agent of Manderley. He is said to be Maxim's trusted advisor and faithful confidant. He soon becomes a good friend to the second Mrs de Winter, and helps her in the self-doubt of her inability to rule Manderley as its mistress.
- Beatrice Lacy : Maxim's wilful and quick-witted sister, who develops an immediate fondness for the new Mrs de Winter. Prior to the novel, she had married Giles Lacy. She, along with her brother, is one of the few people who knew Rebecca's true, vile nature, and was one of her victims: Beatrice's husband was seduced by her.
- Giles Lacy: The slightly slow-witted husband of Beatrice, and Maxim's brother-in-law. He was one of the many men who fell for Rebecca's charms.
- Frith: The middle-aged, kind and devoted butler at Manderley. He had worked for the de Winters when Maxim's late father was a boy.
- Robert: A footman.
- Clarice: Mrs de Winter's faithful and trusted maid. She aided her lady and mistress in fitting her white, frilly gown for the fancy dress ball. She replaces the original maid, Alice, later on.
- Jack Favell: The crafty and sneaky first cousin of the late Rebecca de Winter and her most frequent boyfriend/lover. He and Rebecca had grown up together as children, causing mayhem, and he shares many of her worst traits, suggesting insanity runs in their family. He is strongly disliked by Maxim and several other characters. Since Rebecca's untimely demise, his one and only true friend and confidante is Mrs Danvers, whom he calls "Danny", just as Rebecca had done.
- Colonel Julyan: The investigator of the inquest of the true cause of Rebecca's untimely demise.
- Dr. Baker: A doctor who specialises in the feminine problems of women. A few hours prior to her death, Rebecca went to see him in secret, when he diagnosed her with an unspecified type of cancer.
- The fictional Hôtel Côte d'Azur, Monte Carlo
- The fictional Manderley, a country estate which du Maurier's editor noted "is as much an atmosphere as a tangible erection of stones and mortar"
Her husband, Tommy "Boy" Browning, was Lieutenant Colonel of the Grenadier Guards and they were posted to Alexandria, Egypt, with the Second Battalion, leaving Britain on 30 July 1937. Gollancz expected her manuscript on their return to Britain in December but she wrote that she was "ashamed to tell you that progress is slow on the new novel....There is little likelihood of my bringing back a finished manuscript in December."
On returning to Britain in December 1937, du Maurier decided to spend Christmas away from her family to write the book and she successfully delivered it to her publisher less than four months later. Du Maurier described the plot as "a sinister tale about a woman who marries a widower....Psychological and rather macabre."
Derivation and inspirationSome commentators have noted parallels with Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Another of du Maurier's works, Jamaica Inn, is also linked to one of the Brontë sisters' works, Emily's Wuthering Heights. Du Maurier commented publicly in her lifetime that the book was based on her own memories of Menabilly and Cornwall, as well as her relationship with her father.
While du Maurier "categorised Rebecca as a study in jealousy... she admitted its origins in her own life to few." Her husband had been "engaged before – to glamorous, dark-haired Jan Ricardo. The suspicion that Tommy remained attracted to Ricardo haunted Daphne." In The Rebecca Notebook of 1981, du Maurier "'remembered' Rebecca's gestation … Seeds began to drop. A beautiful home... a first wife... jealousy, a wreck, perhaps at sea, near to the house... But something terrible would have to happen, I did not know what..." She wrote in her notes prior to writing: 'I want to build up the character of the first in the mind of the second... until wife 2 is haunted day and night... a tragedy is looming very close and CRASH! BANG! something happens.'"
Du Maurier and her husband, "Tommy Browning, like Rebecca and Maximilian de Winter, were not faithful to one another." Subsequent to the novel's publication, "Jan Ricardo, tragically, died during the Second World War. She threw herself under a train."
Childhood visits to Milton Hall, Cambridgeshire home of the Wentworth-Fitzwilliam family, may have influenced the descriptions of Manderley.
Literary techniqueThe famous opening line of the book "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." is an iambic hexameter. The last line of the book "And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea" is also in metrical form; almost but not quite an anapestic tetrameter.
Plagiarism allegationsShortly after Rebecca was published in Brazil, critic Álvaro Lins pointed out many resemblances between du Maurier's book and the work of Brazilian writer Carolina Nabuco. Nabuco's A Sucessora has a main plot similar to Rebecca, for example a young woman marrying a widower and the strange presence of the first wife – plot features also shared with the far older Jane Eyre. Nina Auerbach alleged in her book, Daphne du Maurier, Haunted Heiress, that du Maurier read the Brazilian book when the first drafts were sent to be published in England and based her famous best-seller on it.
According to Nabuco's autobiography, Eight Decades, she refused to sign an agreement brought to her by a United Artists' representative in which she agreed that the similarities between her book and the movie were mere coincidence. Du Maurier denied copying Nabuco's book, as did her publisher, claiming that the plot used in Rebecca was quite common. A further, ironic complication in Nabuco's allegations is the similarity between her novel and the novel Encarnação, written by José de Alencar, Brazil's most celebrated novelist of the nineteenth century, and published posthumously in 1873.
In 1944 in the United States, du Maurier, her US publishers, Doubleday, and various parties connected with the 1940 film version of the novel, were sued for plagiarism by Edwina L. MacDonald who alleged that du Maurier had copied her novel Blind Windows. Du Maurier successfully rebutted the allegations.
Publishing history and receptionDu Maurier delivered the manuscript to her publisher, Victor Gollancz, in April 1938. On receipt, the book was read in Gollancz's office and her "editor, Norman Collins, reported simply: 'The new Daphne du Maurier contains everything that the public could want.'" Gollancz's "reaction to Rebecca was relief and jubilation" and "a 'rollicking success' was predicted by him." He "did not hang around" and "ordered a first print run of 20,000 copies and within a month Rebecca had sold more than twice that number." The novel has been continuously in print since 1938 and in 1993 "du Maurier's US publishers Avon estimated ongoing monthly paperback sales of Rebecca at more than 4,000 copies."
PromotionDu Maurier "did several radio interviews with BBC and other stations" and "attended Foyle's Literary Lunch" in August 1938 while Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and House & Garden published articles on du Maurier.
Reception in the professional and popular pressThe Times said that "the material is of the humblest...nothing in this is beyond the novelette." In the Christian Science Monitor of 14 September 1938, V. S. Pritchett predicted the novel "would be here today, gone tomorrow."
More recently, in a column for The Independent, the critics Ceri Radford and Chris Harvey recommended the book and argued that Rebecca is a "marvellously gothic tale" with a good dose of atmospheric and psychological horror.
Few critics saw in the novel what the author wanted them to see: the exploration of the relationship between a man who is powerful and a woman who is not.
Subsequent popular reception
Print historyRebecca is listed in the 20th-Century American Bestsellers descriptive bibliography database maintained by the University of Illinois. The entry, by Katherine Huber, provided the detailed information on the English and American editions as well as translations listed below.
AwardsIn the US, du Maurier won the National Book Award for favourite novel of 1938, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 14 on the UK survey The Big Read.
In 2017, it was voted the UK's favourite book of the past 225 years in a poll by bookseller W H Smith. Other novels in the shortlist were To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and 1984 by George Orwell.
FilmRebecca has been adapted for film several times. The best known of these is the Academy Award–winning 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film version Rebecca, the first film Hitchcock made under his contract with David O. Selznick. The film, which starred Laurence Olivier as Max, Joan Fontaine as the heroine, and Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers, was based on the novel. However, the Hollywood Production Code required that if Max had murdered his wife, he would have to be punished for his crime. Therefore, the key turning point of the novel – the revelation that Max, in fact, murdered Rebecca – was altered so that it seemed as if Rebecca's death was accidental. At the end of the film version, Mrs Danvers perishes in the fire, which she had started. The film quickly became a classic and, at the time, was a major technical achievement in film-making.
The 1997 made for TV version starring Charles Dance and Emilia Fox
The 1964 Bollywood Hindi film Kohra, the 1969 Malayalam film Urangatha Sundary, and the 2008 film Anamika were inspired by Rebecca.
An upcoming film adaptation, Rebecca, was directed by Ben Wheatley and written by Jane Goldman, and stars Lily James and Armie Hammer.
TelevisionRebecca was adapted for The Philco Television Playhouse, with Mary Anderson and Bramwell Fletcher; Robert Montgomery Presents, with Barbara Bel Geddes and Peter Cookson; and Broadway Television Theatre, with Patricia Breslin and Scott Forbes.
Theatre '62 presented an NBC-TV adaptation starring James Mason as Maxim, Joan Hackett as the second Mrs. de Winter, and Nina Foch as Mrs. Danvers.
Rebecca, a 1979 BBC adaptation, was directed by Simon Langton and starred Jeremy Brett as Maxim, Joanna David as the second Mrs de Winter, and Anna Massey as Mrs Danvers. It ran for four 55-minute episodes. It was broadcast in the United States on PBS as part of its Mystery! series.
Rebecca, a 1997 Carlton Television miniseries, starred Emilia Fox, Charles Dance as de Winter, and Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs Danvers. It was directed by Jim O'Brien, with a screenplay by Arthur Hopcraft. It was broadcast in the United States by PBS as part of its Masterpiece Theatre series. This adaptation is noteworthy for featuring an appearance by Rebecca, played by Lucy Cohu. It also shows Maxim saving Mrs Danvers from the fire, ending with an epilogue showing Maxim and the second Mrs de Winter relaxing abroad, as she explains what she and Maxim do with their days now they are unlikely ever to return to Manderley.
The 2009 Pakistani drama series Noorpur Ki Rani was based on Rebecca.
RadioThe first adaptation of Rebecca for any medium was presented 9 December 1938, by Orson Welles, as the debut program of his live CBS Radio series, The Campbell Playhouse. Introducing the story, Welles refers to the forthcoming motion picture adaptation by David O. Selznick; at the conclusion of the show he interviews Daphne du Maurier in London via shortwave radio. The novel was adapted by Howard E. Koch. Welles and Margaret Sullavan starred as Max de Winter and the second Mrs de Winter. Other cast included Mildred Natwick, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Frank Readick, Alfred Shirley, Eustace Wyatt and Agnes Moorehead. Bernard Herrmann composed and conducted the score, which later formed the basis of his score for the 1943 film, Jane Eyre.
The Screen Guild Theater presented half-hour adaptions with Joan Fontaine, her husband at the time Brian Aherne, and Agnes Moorehead, and with Loretta Young, John Lund and Agnes Moorehead. Joan Fontaine and Joseph Cotten performed a half-hour adaptation 1 October 1946, on The Cresta Blanca Hollywood Players.
The Lux Radio Theatre presented hour-long adaptations with Ronald Colman, Ida Lupino and Judith Anderson, and with Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Betty Blythe.
TheatreDu Maurier herself adapted Rebecca as a stage play in 1939; it had a successful London run in 1940 of over 350 performances. The Talking Books for the blind edition read by Barbara Caruso borrows heavily from this stage adaptation which differs materially from the novel in many respects including changing the iconic ending of the novel.
A Broadway stage adaptation starring Diana Barrymore, Bramwell Fletcher and Florence Reed ran 18 January – 3 February 1945, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
On 28 September 2006 a musical version of Rebecca premièred at the Raimund Theater in Vienna, Austria. The musical was written by Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay and directed by the American director Francesca Zambello. The cast included Uwe Kröger as Max de Winter, Wietske van Tongeren as "Ich" and Susan Rigvava-Dumas as Mrs Danvers. Before 2008 there was talk of moving the musical to the Broadway stage, but the original plans were cancelled due to the complexity of the sets, scenery, and special effects – including a grand staircase that twirls down into the stage and a finale in which the entire stage – including Mrs Danvers – is engulfed in flames. The musical was scheduled to open on Broadway on 18 November 2012, with Jill Paice as "I", Ryan Silverman as Max de Winter, and Karen Mason as Mrs Danvers, but funding difficulties led to last-minute cancellation.
OperaRebecca was adapted as an opera with music by Wilfred Josephs, premiered by Opera North in Leeds, England, 15 October 1983.
Sequels and related worksThe novel has inspired three additional books approved by the du Maurier estate:
- Mrs de Winter by Susan Hill.
- The Other Rebecca by Maureen Freely.
- Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman
''Rebecca'' as a WWII code key
This use of the novel was also referred to in Michael Ondaatje's 1992 novel The English Patient.
In popular cultureThe novel, and the character of Mrs Danvers in particular, have entered many aspects of popular culture.
LiteratureThe character of Mrs Danvers is alluded to numerous times throughout Stephen King's Bag of Bones. In the book, Mrs Danvers serves as something of a bogeyman for the main character Mike Noonan. King also uses the character name for the chilly, obedient servant in "Father's Day", a tale in his 1982 film Creepshow.
In Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, in the bookworld, they have accidentally made thousands of Mrs Danvers clones, which they use as troops against The Mispeling Vyrus and other threats.
In The Maxx issue No. 31, a teenage Julie Winters watches a black-and-white version of the movie.
In Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James, Anastasia Steele reads Rebecca after an argument with Christian Grey. Anastasia is haunted by Christian's previous relationships with his "submissives" and like the second Mrs de Winters, is fearful she doesn't measure up.
In Danielle Steel's novel Vanished, it is mentioned that the main character is reading Rebecca. This was most likely deliberate on Steele's part, considering that the novel has many of the same elements as Rebecca.
In Linda Howard's 2010 novel Veil of Night, Eric compares an assistant to Danvers as well as stating he read the book under protest to pass a high school literature class.
FilmThe 1983 science fiction comedy film The Man with Two Brains gives a brief nod to aspects of Rebecca. After falling for Dolores Benedict, Dr Hfuhruhurr intends to marry her and seeks a sign from the portrait of his deceased wife, Rebecca. The supernatural reaction of the portrait doesn't convince him and so he places her in a cupboard.
TelevisionThe 1970 Parallel Time storyline of the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows was heavily inspired by Rebecca including the costume ball scene. Also the second Dark Shadows motion picture, Night of Dark Shadows took inspiration from the novel including a mention by Kate Jackson's character who hopes the housekeeper is not like Mrs Danvers
The film was parodied on The Carol Burnett Show in a 1972 skit called "Rebecky", with Carol Burnett as the heroine, Daphne; Harvey Korman as Max "de Wintry" and in the guise of Mother Marcus as Rebecky de Wintry; and Vicki Lawrence as Mrs Dampers. The story was again referenced in an episode of the series "Mama's Family" titled "I Do, I Don't." In it, Bubba, Iola, and Mama each have nightmares about married life. Mama's dream is a parody of the Rebecca scenario.
The fifth episode of the second series of That Mitchell and Webb Look contains an extended sketch parodying the 1940 film, in which Rebecca is unable to live up to Maxim's and Mrs Danvers's expectations for the Second Mrs de Winter – described as "TBA".
The plots of certain Latin-American soap operas have also been inspired by this story, such as Manuela, Infierno en el paraíso, the Venezuelan telenovela Julia and its remake El Fantasma de Elena on Telemundo.
In 1986, an episode of The Comic Strip Presents called "Consuela" parodied Rebecca. It was written by French and Saunders, and starred Dawn French as the maid and Jennifer Saunders as the new wife of Adrian Edmondson.
In the episode "Eloise" from The Sopranos, Carmella Soprano, while at lunch with her daughter Meadow, speaks disapprovingly of Meadow's relationship with her boyfriend, saying that they "hang on each other", to which Meadow replies "Excuse me, Mrs Danvers, what do you have against love?"
Music's Meg Frampton penned a song entitled "Rebecca", inspired by the novel.
Kansas alumnus Steve Walsh's solo recording Glossolalia includes a song entitled "Rebecca", with lyrics seemingly composed from Maxim de Winter's point of view: "I suppose I was the lucky one, returning like a wayward son to Manderley, I'd never be the same...".
Steve Hackett included a song entitled "Rebecca", inspired by the novel, on his album To Watch the Storms.